Stress is the body's physical, chemical, and emotional reaction to an overwhelming, confusing, or exciting situation. And even though their lives may seem so simple, children of all ages can experience stress. But not all childhood stress is harmful. Normative stress, which occurs at times of transition throughout a child's development, such as learning to walk, talk, use the potty, go to school, and make new friends, is actually a productive form of anxiety because it helps a child grow and become more independent. Life-change stress, on the other hand, is typically more confusing and upsetting to children. Events or situations that can trigger life-change stress include:
• Divorce: When parents fight regularly or split up, a child's sense of security is threatened, making him feel alone and scared.
• Moving: Going to a strange new home, community, school, or group of friends can result in feelings of insecurity and confusion.
• Death: Whether it's the loss of a close family member, friend, or beloved pet, death is often baffling to children and the ensuing grief can be crushing. A child may feel abandoned or that he somehow caused the death, creating a sense of guilt. In addition, deaths that occur at random (like in car accidents) can also leave children edgy and fearful.
• Being overscheduled: Running from school to athletic activities to music lessons without taking time to relax can cause intense anxiety in a child who is not mature enough to manage such a demanding schedule.
• Peer pressure: Even preschoolers and young children can be influenced by how other children think and act. Not wanting to be different from others causes some children to feel anxious.